CDC finds sharp rise in obesity, state-by-state

Staff - - 07/19/2011

Twelve states had obesity rates of 30% or higher in 2010, show results of the Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System, a phone survey of 400,000 U.S. adults. No state reported an obesity rate lower than 20%. In 2000, no state had an obesity rate above 25%.

Among Southern states, the obesity rate was 29.4%. In the Midwest the rate was 28.7% and the Northeast had a rate of 24.9%. The West had the lowest rate, 24.1%.

The most obese state in the nation was Mississippi, with 34% of adults considered obese, while the state with the lowest rate of obesity was Colorado, at 21%. More than half of all states reported a decline from 2009, but the drop was often very small, sometimes less than a percentage point.

The data means that no state met the Healthy People 2010 goal to bring obesity rates below 20% over the past decade. Healthy People is an initiative of the Department of Health and Human Services to promote health and wellness in individuals and communities. Healthy People 2020 includes a target obesity rate of 30%.

This report is based on state-by-state obesity data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in which people self-report their height and weight. Because people tend to underreport their weight, the percentage of people who are obese is probably even higher than the statistics indicate, experts say.

CDC data from the National Nutrition Health and Examination Survey in which people are weighed and measured indicates that about 34% of U.S. adults, almost 73 million people, are obese. A person is considered obese if he or she is roughly 30 or more pounds over a healthy weight. Extra weight raises the risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other problems.

"We're going to have to see changes in behavior before we see changes in the prevalence of obesity," says Bettylou Sherry, a CDC epidemiologist.

Sherry says these changes include personal responsibility as well as providing access to healthy food options.

"Food deserts" in some areas, such as inner cities, may have few grocery stores, and stores that are present tend to be small and less likely to provide as many healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, Sherry says.

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